How Ironic!

Picture this.  Friday 30th January 2009.  Eighteen determined students studying Carbon Accounting, working in a classroom full of computers, figuring out how to calculate carbon inventories for Australian businesses.  No air conditioning, stinking hot and sweaty, with an inside temperature of 32C and an outside temperature of 45C.   The third day in a row of maximum temperatures of over 43C. 

Doesn’t that strike you as being just a little bit ironic?  It did for me.  I felt like I was trying to shut the gate after the horse had already bolted.  Learning how to calculate carbon by the tonne so that households and businesses could reduce their carbon footprints.  Maybe we have left our efforts a little too late?  This heatwave is just another little part of the evidence that our climate in our part of the planet is changing quickly.  11 out of the last 12 years have been the hottest on record. 

Here is the rub.  Over the last three days of searing temps, the following things failed. 

  • Public Transport
  • The Power grid

These major events happened as well. 

  • Bushfires in Gippsland (East Victoria)
  • Water consumption skyrocketed
  • Road traffic increased 10 fold (due to failed Public Transport)
  • The wine industry lost 90% of the 2009 grape crop
  • 0.8mm of rain for the month of January (lowest on record)

Now, these events are not ironic in themselves, they were just outcomes of a major heatwave, one that the greater Melbourne area has never experienced since weather records began in 1880.  The ironic thing was the majority of peoples behaviour once the heatwave finished yesterday.  The TV news was full of people angry at the government, public transport operators, and power companies.

So lets analyse this anger and see if it is miss-directed.  The first question to ask is what causes climate change?  Is the government?  Well maybe a little, because they emit CO2-e like everyone else, but not the sole contributor of climate change.  The ones at fault are everyone who leads a western lifestyle!  That would be the majority of Australians.  So don’t you think that the angry people should have a good look at themselves first. 

Secondly, you can’t blame the public transport operators for the massive cancellations, basically because the suburban rail system was not designed to operate at temperatures over 40C.  Our average January temperature is usually 26C.  Railway tracks buckle at these extremes, and they did, which caused massive delays.  Brakes on engines aren’t designed to work in sweltering heat, and they didn’t.  Electric trains don’t run when there is no electricity, and neither do the signals for diesel locos either.  So what did most people do on day 2 and 3 of the heatwave?  They drove their cars to work.  Do you think anyone carpooled?  Hell no.  Not even I, because no one I knew was going my way, so I was also to blame for the larger than usual traffic congestion.  It took me two hours to get to Uni on Friday, when it normally take just 50 minutes.

Thirdly, you also can’t blame the government for the power grid failing.  Yes, the Premier of Victoria, the Honourable Mr Brumby might have said on Monday that the grid will be able to handle a few days of hot weather, but it was not his fault that every Tom, Dick, and Harry decided to turn their air conditioners on pushing the grid to breaking point, instead of investing in insulation, awnings and ceiling fans to keep their homes cool.  And break it did.  At about 1800 on Friday afternoon a major substation blew up at South Morang that supplied to major transmission lines to the western part of the state.  Over half a million consumers were without power for at least four hours at the height of the heat. 

Do you think this anger was misdirected.  I do!  Everyone has a choice, and most seam to be making the wrong ones.

So what about solutions.  Well here is one that would solve most of the issues.

Just think of this scenario which is definitely and squarely in the governments court.  A 1 kW Solar PV system of every homes roof top, generating at least 25% of each homes electricity need.   This electricity will be generated where it is needed most, and not via distributed via substations and transmission lines.  Maybe if all this locally generated power was being pumped into the local grid, substations wouldn’t overheat and explode from overuse.  I don’t know, I may be out on a limb here, but if feed-in tariff was just a little more (a lot more) attractive to the average householder, then this scenario could become a reality.  This scenario would also go a long way to helping reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, by offsetting our reliance on brown coal fired electricity generation.  We might also go quite a way to setting an example to others and could avert the climate chaos that is quickly approaching us.

To cap all of this off, the rainfall that we so desperately need is nowhere in sight.  My rainwater tank is nearly dry, and the vegetable patch is a former shadow of itself.  During the heat I lost 5 tomato plants, hundreds of sun-burnt tomatoes on other vines, two cucumber plants, 6 sweetcorn plants, and most of a hedge out the front.  Amazingly, or more to my hard work, the rest of the garden survived.  I can certainly believe that our water supply for the city is getting near to critical.  Not as bad as no 2009 vintage from the majority of Victorian vineyards!  Now that is a sorry state of affairs!

I truly hope that Melbourne does not become the first major Australian city to run out of drinking water.  Now that would be one for the books.  What would happen to the angry people then?  Who would they blame?  Where would they go? 

Possibly a behaviour or reality check is in order.  There are lessons to be learnt from the events of this past week.  But, alas, these are lessons that will not sink in, and the opportunity will most probably pass us by.  The hot weather will be a distant memory, now that it is becoming cooler, and the necessary solutions will not be implemented.  Consumption in all things crappy will not abate.  We will wait until it happens again next summer and complain until it this weather pattern is the norm.  And of course our parliamentary ostriches, with their heads in the sand, will continue to fight for the status quo.  Corporate greed before morality.  Sounds the wrong way around to me!

I will leave you with a quote that always gives me hope when I read it.  I hope it does for you as well.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead.


  1. says

    Governments ARE to blame for not forcing developers to build houses that are suited to our climate and that use less water. Individuals aren’t always in a position to do it. BASIX in NSW is a good idea but apparently you can “pass” it by putting in a couple of green appliances. Ridiculous — and even so, developers held it off for a couple of years!

  2. says

    I general I agree, but I don’t think we can let the government (or the last state government) and the private provider off the hook. Trains used to work on 30 degree days in Melbourne. Trains operate in India, and the chaos isn’t weather dependent. I think the problems with our transport system are totally due to underfunding and underplanning. Which causes people to drive, which contributes to climate change.

    The hot weather, and the infrastructure problems that came with it certainly emphasised how badly our governments have planned over the last twenty years.

  3. Anonymous says

    i found a website which is all about environmental topics. let me know what you guys think about it. Cheers

  4. Barbara says

    I think Adelaide will run out
    of water long before Melbourne.
    We have a 4kw solar system and
    no air conditioing but ever
    since the heatwave began our
    next door neighbours have been
    running their massive ducted
    air conditioner day and night.
    Multiply that by two thirds of
    the households in southern
    Australia and you see the problem!

  5. JulieG says

    I saw on the news a Melbourne woman stranded by the stopped trains, saying “It’s like living in a third world country!”

    You should have seen my jaw drop! Perhaps she needs to learn a little more about the world outside her own little bubble before she decides how bad things are.

  6. says

    Years ago when we started living out hare there was no bus service into the nearest train station so people would stand on the side of the road and “hitch” – now we have a just hail it whereever bus, but if I have a few spare seats ( and I have an eight seater I always stop and ask if anyone wants a lift) – this morning I filled my car!! Next time fate conspires to make you the only person in the car consider a sign that states where you are headed and hold it up at bus stops bet you fill the car in no time. I realise that urban Melbourne is a bit different from semi rural Brisvegas – but you are computer savvy why not set up a uni car pooling website so you can log on in the morning and find out who needs to go where from where in fact I think City Councils should host a site like this in every capital City – my old school friends husband is the Lord mayor might suggest it to him …..

    have a great day


  7. says

    Even when the government does do something good like the residential solar rebate, they still manage to stuff it up. There was an article in the paper last week that claimed rebate applications were taking up to 6 months to process!

    How hard can it be? They just need to log your details and approve the rebate. What can they possibly be doing that takes months?

    I’ve been waiting since December for approval, so I guess summer will be long gone before I get mine installed. Pity.

  8. Anonymous says

    remember Gav that a single journey begins with a one step and you, and quite a few others, have stepped out. so like a snow ball running down a hill it will generate more and more people as the journey continues I only hope that it wont be too late ELLIE

  9. says

    Couldn’t agree more with this post Gavin! It’s just plain common sense. I would definitely be interested in going solar if we could afford to do so.

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